Tenure and teacher unions have image problems

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pulled out a solid victory in Tuesday’s recall election, a stinging defeat for organized labor (teacher unions first and foremost) that should embolden other state leaders to take on previously sacrosanct public-employee benefits. Walker’s move to curtail collective-bargaining rights was messy and expensive, but absolutely necessary in order to protect taxpayers from irresponsible superintendents and school boards and to ensure education dollars end up in classrooms, not benefits plans. Gadfly looks forward to seeing which state comes next.

The Department of Education gave states tens of millions of reasons not to try to stretch school dollars this week when itrejected South Carolina’s appeal of a $36 million fine for cutting special education spending (along with all other spending) during the recession. For anyone puzzled by our nation’s skyrocketing spending on special-needs students, one look at the feds’ dogmatic enforcement of Maintenance of Effort requirements should help explain the problem.

The Sunday Washington Post offered a fascinating look at what it takes to fire a tenured teacher: months of hearings, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and hurdle upon bureaucratic hurdle. Equally frustrating about the particular case examined, however, was that student achievement wasn’t a factor in the district’s evaluation, and the teacher in question’s pupils weren’t low-performing: The case for her termination was based solely on subjective evaluations. The article is a crucial reminder that for tenure reform to gain steam it must be tied to teacher evaluations that include objective measures of student performance.

A new Ed Next survey finds only 22 percent of Americans think teacher unions have a positive effect on schools, and the percentage of teachers holding that view dipped by 16 points over the past year. The latter stat is particularly intriguing: If the unions lose the rank-and-file, the whole tenor of education debates could change.

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